New DAC vs older CD player

HowardInRct

Active Member
Hello.

I'd be grateful for some help on these questions please....

  • I'm building a dedicated 2-channel system and have £400 to spend on source components.
  • I only want to listen to CDs.
  • Speakers are Tannoy Gold 5 active speakers.
  • I definitely want to use a balanced DAC, with a pre-amplifier/variable output, to connect to the speakers using the XLR connections.

Option 1 is to buy a new DAC; something like the SMSL SU-9n looks interesting. I would then use a Denon 1940 universal player as a Transport to play the CDs via coaxial S/PDIF.

Option 2 is to buy a 2nd-hand Audiolab 8200 CDQ, which is a CD player with built-in DAC/pre-amp and XLR output.

People say that the sound quality of a DAC is dependent on: chipset, analogue output stage and power supply.

Although the new DAC gets good reviews, I wonder if the SQ of the preamp was actually tested. For example, Paul Rigby here says don't bother with the pre-amp (for an albeit different DAC):

"Firstly, let’s look at the E30 as a pre amp. To test this, I connected it to a pair of YU4 powered speakers from Kanto and played Bob Marley’s Jamming via an Astel&Kern AK120. Output was rather unbalanced, bass heavy with rather bloomy bass at that. Mids were claustrophobic, treble was rolled off while the soundstage was restricted and stuffed full of cotton wool. In pre-amp mode? No. Don’t go there."

So my questions are:

* Will the SQ of the new DAC sound better, as it is using the latest DAC technology (but potentially a not very good "pre-amp"), or will the 8200 sound better because it was a high-end player and I assume has a better pre-amp/output stage; even though the 8200 was designed 10 years ago?

* How can you tell by looking at the specs of both? If I can, I like to avoid buying both.

(I'm aware I'd get a warranty with the new DAC, and that the 8200 is quite long-in-the-tooth but have heard that, once the PSU caps. have been replaced, it's reliable. It's really all about advances in technology SQ vs older high-end SQ at the moment).

Thank you
 

Ascotbilly

Well-known Member
I would go with the new DAC. You can always pick up a cheap transport.

I have one of the Denon Universal players. It’s the 2012 model Built like a tank and plays practically any disk you throw at it.

I’m a novice on actives but a few lads on here are in the know. @Paul7777x is particularly clued up
 
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HowardInRct

Active Member
I would go with the new DAC. You can always pick up a cheap transport.

I have one of the Denon Universal players. It’s the 2012 model Built like a tank and plays practically any disk you throw at it
Hi @Ascotbilly . Yes, option 1 includes a Denon player as a transport - I've had one squirreled-away for a while but it still works well. Can you say why you would pick the new DAC over the older high-end CD player? Thanks
 

gibbsy

Moderator
Any CDP with a digital output will act as a transport and all will give the same 0 and 1 to the DAC. You can get CDPs that have outstanding analogue circuits and this is where the difference lies.
 

Ascotbilly

Well-known Member
Hi @Ascotbilly . Yes, option 1 includes a Denon player as a transport - I've had one squirreled-away for a while but it still works well. Can you say why you would pick the new DAC over the older high-end CD player? Thanks
Reliability and guarantee plus a modern DAC up to £400 is in most cases likely to sound better than the DAC fitted into an older CD.
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
and all will give the same 0 and 1 to the DAC

Well maybe not for SPDIF, but in the case of the E30 using an AKM4493 DAC and a CS8416 SPDIF receiver to provide clock and data to the DAC via IIS, I believe this may actually be true in this case. With many DACs it may not be.

I think an earlier version of the E30 used an AKM SPDIF decoder (cant remember which) and some have reported differences in sound since the switch over (Probably a result of the AK factory fire).
 

HowardInRct

Active Member
Reliability and guarantee plus a modern DAC up to £400 is in most cases likely to sound better than the DAC fitted into an older CD.
That's got the DAC-quality answered thanks.

Any CDP with a digital output will act as a transport and all will give the same 0 and 1 to the DAC. You can get CDPs that have outstanding analogue circuits and this is where the difference lies.
@gibbsy - Thanks. In your opinion, do you think the 8200CDQ is going to have a better analogue output stage and power supply than the SMSL SU-9n e.g. as a whole package, which one would provide the best sound quality?
 

gibbsy

Moderator
@gibbsy - Thanks. In your opinion, do you think the 8200CDQ is going to have a better analogue output stage and power supply than the SMSL SU-9n e.g. as a whole package, which one would provide the best sound quality?
That's really difficult, if not impossible, for me to answer as I've not heard either. All I can safely say is that with my last three CDP purchases the more I've spent the better they've got. That has been, in order of purchase, Marantz cd6006, Marantz sa8005 and finally Denon DCD 2500 NE.

It's only you that can say which ones suit you best. If you want to hear how good a CDP is then try and listen on headphones as there is no hiding place for loss of detail as there would be in a room with speakers.
 

HowardInRct

Active Member
Thanks all. Short of buying both, looks like there's no way to tell on paper which one is likely to have the best SQ. I might be tempted by the 8200CDQ if I can find one at a really good price, considering it's age and the concerns over reliability. Otherwise, I'll go for a new SMSL, with a warranty.
 

muljao

Well-known Member
Thanks all. Short of buying both, looks like there's no way to tell on paper which one is likely to have the best SQ. I might be tempted by the 8200CDQ if I can find one at a really good price, considering it's age and the concerns over reliability. Otherwise, I'll go for a new SMSL, with a warranty.
While everyone will have different tastes, the chances are that a well reviewed dac (by a couple of reliable sources) in your price range will not disappoint you.

In your position I'd buy a set of JBL lsr 305p or a set of Adam t5v. I had jbls, they are great for music, not just a nearfield mix speaker. The Adams are apparently super also, with reviews going too and fro as to which is better.

I wouldn't worry about balanced inputs/ outputs, it only matters if you're running massive lengths of cable or have loads of cables causing interference
 

HowardInRct

Active Member
In your position I'd buy a set of JBL lsr 305p or a set of Adam t5v. I had jbls, they are great for music, not just a nearfield mix speaker. The Adams are apparently super also, with reviews going too and fro as to which is better.
I'm drawn to the Tannoy Gold 5 due to the concentric drivers and because they get good reviews. Also, for what it's worth, DSAUDIO.review has put out some interesting comparisons of active monitors. I always prefer the sound of the Tannoys, in all of the videos that feature them. Here's the Gold 5 vs T5V if interested.
I did visit a pro-music shop to "audition" the T5V, but was only offered a listen on the shop floor, to music streamed from Amazon Music, via the headphone socket, so not ideal :)
 

muljao

Well-known Member
I'm drawn to the Tannoy Gold 5 due to the concentric drivers and because they get good reviews. Also, for what it's worth, DSAUDIO.review has put out some interesting comparisons of active monitors. I always prefer the sound of the Tannoys, in all of the videos that feature them. Here's the Gold 5 vs T5V if interested.
I did visit a pro-music shop to "audition" the T5V, but was only offered a listen on the shop floor, to music streamed from Amazon Music, via the headphone socket, so not ideal :)
Just be aware that you enjoying Tannoys on a video may be down to what your listening on. Tannoys make fine speakers and to each his own.

As a complete different option, have you looked at the q acoustics m20, it might simplify things for you
 

Mark.Yudkin

Distinguished Member
IMHO, given the £400 budget limitation, a decent older CD player at that price will seriously outperform any CD Player/Transport + separate DAC combination you can find at that price. That is also logical, with one unit you aren't paying for the same component (power supply, box, controls, displays, etc.) twice. Moreover, just because a DAC has been put into a separate box doesn't mean it's objectively any better than the built in one. At least not at this price level.

A Cambridge Audio 840C would be an alternative, more recent, CDP with balanced outputs, going for around your budget.
 

HowardInRct

Active Member
IMHO, given the £400 budget limitation, a decent older CD player at that price will seriously outperform any CD Player/Transport + separate DAC combination you can find at that price.
Hi @Mark.Yudkin. Some are saying a new DAC will be better as it has a modern DAC chip; you have a different opinion. Nightmare - I'm going around in circles on this one :) Looks like the warranty of the new DAC, vs the gamble of an older player, may be the deciding factor on this one.
 

Ascotbilly

Well-known Member
Morning Howard - @Mark.Yudkin is much more experienced in this equipment than you and I and will have the knowledge and confidence in what he’s buying.
With our inexperience (no offence) you are better off buying new for the reasons you state plus I assume you’re looking at this as a long term buy whereas 2nd hand could die a week after you purchase.

Also before you buy, try your Universal player you may get a surprise To how well it may sound.
 
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oscroft

Member
I always prefer the sound of the Tannoys, in all of the videos that feature them. Here's the Gold 5 vs T5V if interested.
You are not listening to the Tannoys in those videos, you are listening to your speakers (or headphones, whatever you use to play YouTube). Judging any component through YouTube listening is foolish in my view, but you absolutely can not judge speakers that way.
 

ShanePJ

Distinguished Member
AVForums Sponsor
Yeah, making a recommendation of what a pair of speakers sound like though YouTube is like listening through your mate ears without you being there, you might get excited about them at the time with how they describe them, but when you hear them with your own ears, you will wonder what all the fuss was about

As for the DAC, modern ones are great (in my opinion) and like has been mentioned, any player which reads those shiny discs will be fine so long as it has the correct output connection (which will be digital as you don’t want to process the signal twice)
 
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oscroft

Member
Just a thought on CD transports...

I currently have two. One is an Audiolab 8000CD, made in the 90s, and a well regarded one in its day. It's old technology on the DAC front, but I'm not aware of any significant recent advances in the way to make CDs spin.

The other is an old Mac Mini, which I use as a dedicated music computer. I use it almost exclusively to play FLAC and MP3 files, but I can play CDs directly from it too. The CD/DVD drive is not made with any audiophile consideration.

If I play the Audiolab CD player via SPDIF coax to my Audolab M-DAC, and the Mac Mini via USB to the same DAC... I can't hear any difference.
 

oscroft

Member
Yeah, making a recommendation of what a pair of speakers sound like though YouTube is like listening through your mate ears without you. You might get excited about them, but when you hear them with your own ears, you will wonder what all the fuss was about

As for the DAC, modern ones are great (in my opinion) and like has been mentioned, any player which reads those shiny discs will be fine so long as it has the correct output connection (which will be digital as you don’t want to process the signal twice)
It reminds me some old TV ads on TV - some years ago, so you need to be of a certain age. We saw a TV maker showing their TV next to a competitor, side by side, and we were expected to be able to see the difference... on our existing TV.

It pretty much backfired because, if our existing TV is good enough to show the difference, it must be even better than theirs, right?
 

gibbsy

Moderator
@HowardInRct We have two very good dealers within a short drive. That's RicherSounds in Cowbridge Road and AudioT in Crwys Road, both in Cardiff. Both dealers are very accommodating if you want to audition any kit that they have in stock.
 

HowardInRct

Active Member
Thanks everyone for your input.

Yep, fully aware of the limitations of YouTube videos, which is why I said "for what it's worth". Some pro music shops/online retailers offer no quibble returns so the plan is to try them, in my room, and exchange if I don't want them.

@gibbsy - Don't believe RS or AudioT carry the Gold 5. I did try a pro music shop in Cardiff, but they are not geared-up for proper auditioning .

Signing-off now, but will report back when it's all setup.

Cheers.
 

Mark.Yudkin

Distinguished Member
Hi @Mark.Yudkin. Some are saying a new DAC will be better as it has a modern DAC chip; you have a different opinion. Nightmare - I'm going around in circles on this one :) Looks like the warranty of the new DAC, vs the gamble of an older player, may be the deciding factor on this one.
That is always the problem with asking for public recommendations - you will typically not receive a unanimous answer.

My personal experience on CD replay reliability is that it's the mechanics, not the electronics, that fail with age. When considering longevity therefore, the question is not older player vs new DAC, but older player vs new player / transport.

As for DAC quality, although the original 1980's DACs were not as accurate as may have been liked, by the late 1990's the quality of DACs used for CD replay was already decent and progress in terms of performance since then has been slow. Rather the concentration has been on more bits, more channels, higher speeds, lower power - things that don't matter for 16 bit 44.1kHz stereo performance in a mains-powered CD player, but which were important for (audio-)video, portable devices and the like.
 

password1

Suspended
I would go for a vintage Sony cd player as a transport (edit: not that the built in DAC is no good, mine has the burr brown DAC and is very decent). Mine is from the 80s and has outlasted all my much newer cd players. Its not even a sought after ES model. Mine is one of the cheaper CDP models and has a super smooth tray and quiet in operation, bullet proof reliability (there are plenty on ebay that are old and still going strong), loads CDs much quicker than all my other cd players Ive had. I have had more expensive and newer cd players from Arcam, Marantz and Cambridge Audio (awful reliability in my experience). i keep going back to my vintage Sony.
 
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HowardInRct

Active Member
Hello @password1 As the first step in this journey I decided to bring my Denon 1940 down from the loft and try it in my existing setup - using the Denon as a CD transport connected to a Yamaha RX-A1010 via coaxial S/PDIF. I compared this to my existing Sony BDP (as a CD transport), connected to the Yamaha via HDMI.

I found that the soundstage of the Denon felt like I was "looking" through a letter box - if that makes any sense. It lacked height, sounding constrained and rough around the edges. The Sony had a much better vertical soundstage and better imaging - it sounded much more engaging and energetic; at least to me :)

(Both tried with Pure Direct mode enabled on the Yamaha)

I wanted to like the Denon as it has a track number display and it means I can listen in the dark, without the TV screen on.

That's as far as I've got with the comparison so far. I might try the coaxial output from the Sony, compared to its HDML output.

I will also try disengaging the Pure Direct mode on the Denon.

Given that both S/PDIF and HDMI should be sending the same bits I've been wondering what might cause the discrepancy. I think it could be:

1) The Denon is 15 years old - maybe the capacitors/other components are past their use-by date, and/or

2) The HDMI path on the Yamaha is better than the coaxial path, for some reason?

If it's [1], I think I'll be steering away from older players.

Just my 2p.
 

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